(KLTV) - "They say once a Marine, always a Marine."
George Putnam says joining the United States Marine Corps in 1966 at the age of 17 changed his life.
"I grew up in government housing projects and they're kind of hard to live in," Putnam says.
As a teenager in a gang-ruled environment, Putnam knew he was headed in the wrong direction.
"I finally came to the conclusion that if I kept on that I'd probably be in the pen before I was 20 years old."
So even before he finished high school, Putnam joined the Marines, a group he'd always admired. Within a year, he was sent into battle in Vietnam and, as he puts it, "grew up fast."
"I had been trained for war but I had no concept off what actually happens in war," he says.
He was soon to find out.
"Where reality really strikes is that first time. All the stuff happens at one time, men blown up, shots fired, and then you look round and one of your buddies on each side of you is no longer there," Putnam recalled.